Is online giving really important for a church? Matt Branaugh is the Director of Editorial for the Church Management Team at Christianity Today. He recently wrote a blog on “Five Online Giving Lessons For Churches.” You can find the link of that post listed at the end of my article. It is a good post and raises questions that we in the church world need to consider. Matt is a good writer and I say that not because he often reposts my stuff but because it is true. While I will let you read the post and arrive at your own conclusions I do want to weigh in with some observations.
If you read the post you will find at the bottom that I added a comment. Matt and I are on the same page for the most part though I think I view the importance of online giving a bit differently. Matt in his post called online giving a sliver. While I agree that online giving is small at present it is growing and will at some point be larger than what a church takes in weekly through the offering. In my comment I stated that several of my clients, churches, see 30% of what they receive come electronically, either through kiosks, online giving or automatic withdrawals. My fear is that too many not only do not see the potential of online giving but miss the fact that how Americans do commerce has changed and will continue to change. More and more we are depending on cash and checks less. There are countless studies that show this.
My position, one that has drastically changed in the last year, is that the typical church goer arrives at church without their check book or much cash. So when the offering plate is passed they have little or nothing to contribute. This is true not only for Millennials, Gen-Xers, but for old dudes like me. Only your disciplined church attendees come ready to give. To increase giving and to reach the other half of your attendees you have make giving easy. Thus my push for electric and online giving.
Having said that let me say that some of the questions Matt raises are good for continued thought. Here is my list from not only his original post, his reply to my reply of his post and our Twitter conversation of yesterday.
Are the amounts coming in electronically representing gains beyond what was previously collected–or are the collections just the same dollars received in a new way? The honest answer is that no one has done a definitive study on this. Admittedly the number of churches that we work with is small compared to the over 350K in America. So, only time will tell whether or not this increases giving.
However, my observations are two fold with regards to IF electronic and online giving increases giving or not. First, studies do show that building consistency with your donors increases the amount of what they give. Recurring payments allow members to make the first check out to God so to speak and thus eliminates missing a Sunday and then forgetting to make it up the next Sunday. Secondly, allowing people to give online or electronically addresses those that never carry cash and thus increases the likelihood of any donation from them. This may be small but it could represent a 1% to 3% increase which for many churches is significant.
Isn’t the concept of a cashless society more theory than actual reality? It is already here. Conduct your own study. The next time you go to Starbucks or McDonald’s watch the percentage of transactions that are cash or plastic. Read the papers. Recently the headlines talked about how Sweden is moving towards a cashless system. A recent Rasmussen survey found that 43% of Americans went a week without using cash. They found that convenience of using a credit or debit card apparently is ruling consumer preferences. So, it might not be true in your house but it is the trend of America.
I don’t believe that any time soon we will see the elimination of cash or checks. I simply believe that we have reached a tipping point where fewer use them. We have certainly come along way in the last twenty years. What will the next twenty bring? Churches need to admit the obvious and adapt to meet Americans preferred way to do financial transactions.
Won’t setting up e-giving be time consuming and costly especially for small churches? It could be but it is easier than you think. While many think this is only something that large churches should do or could afford to do it is cheaper than you think. We are as a firm quickly moving to provide this service for churches. Already we help design Apps for under $500 for set up and $39.95 a month for hosting. You will find that setting up online giving is not that expensive. The major hurdle for churches is simply believing that it is worth their while to establish this system.
Some will always prefer the physical act of giving as a part of our worship. This is to me one of the greatest challenges of electronic and online giving. How do we keep it from losing what giving truly is, worship? I frankly as of yet do not have a good answer. I firmly believe in the offering and that it is a part of worship. Giving online does diminish that somewhat. How as a family can you teach giving to your children when they see you pass the plate without putting anything in it? Some churches have encouraged putting in an empty envelope stating that you gave online. One church lets members who give by kiosk put in a receipt of their gift. More thought needs to be given to how we can make online and electronic giving worshipful.
Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Matt and I agree firmly on one thing, churches need to provide multiple options for members to give. While online giving might be small no amount of money should be discounted. Americans love options and that holds true when it comes to giving. Give your members multiply options by which to give and you will increase the amount that is given.
So, is online giving important for a church? I believe it is. While some will benefit more than others ALL churches need to consider online giving. We might be closer to a cashless society than you think and it is in your best interest to begin the infrastructure to support the way your members do business.
Mark Brooks- The Stewardship Coach
Founder and President, The Charis Group and Charis Giving Solutions